Evicted Cover Image


by Matthew Desmond

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Student Question

Why does Larraine in Evicted spend her money the way she does?

Quick answer:

Larraine is a victim of circumstances, and she spends all her money on things that make her feel better.

Expert Answers

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It's fair to say that Larraine, a resident of the trailer park, has a bit of a problem when it comes to spending. She thinks nothing of blowing $200 on a jar of beauty cream instead of paying her rent. She's equally improvident when it comes to food stamps, using up her entire month's allocation to buy two lobster tails, shrimp, crab legs, salad, and lemon meringue pie, all of which she consumes at one sitting.

This is very much a "chicken and egg" question we're dealing with here. There's no definitive answer; much depends on one's own political outlook. The author of Evicted, Matthew Desmond, approaches the problem from a liberal perspective. He thinks that Larraine's improvident spending habits are a symptom of her poverty rather than its cause. A chronic lack of money encourages the poor to spend what little they have on things that make them feel good, feel better about themselves. People like Larraine live lives of great hardship and insecurity. Spending money provides a kind of emotional crutch, something to get them through another day without hope or opportunity. That being the case, it's unrealistic to expect responsible behavior from those who've never had the kind of discipline that a regular paycheck would impose.

A more conservative standpoint, however, would of course look at the matter somewhat differently. Conservatives would emphasize the point that it's Larraine's bad choices in life that are the direct cause of her poverty and which prevent her from getting on. If she's trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty and eviction, then she only has herself to blame. Indeed, those closest to Larraine agree with this assessment, and they certainly have no ax to grind. Some people just lack self-control, irrespective of their income bracket.

Conservatives would further criticize Desmond for what they often refer to as the soft bigotry of low expectations in not holding poor people to the same moral standards as everyone else. Being poor doesn't give you a free pass to shirk your responsibilities. It can be said that Larraine has made a series of bad choices in her life, and she shouldn't expect the government to bail her out. Conservatives would go further and say that the entire system of welfare inadvertently encourages improvident spending habits and lack of responsibility on the part of claimants. In that sense, they would argue that Larraine is indeed a victim of the system, but not in the way that Desmond believes she is.

The debate continues. Again, there's no single answer to this question, but whatever your eventual conclusion it's always important in such cases to examine the issues carefully before making a reasoned judgement.

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